Jay Watson and Nick “Paisley Adams” Allbrook are not unfamiliar with success. They are used to it as members of Tame Impala, the group from Western Australia that released perhaps the best psychedelic-rock release of 2010 in Innerspeaker. It was a beast of an album that has drawn acclaim for a genre too familiar with criticism. Their own project, Pond, will inspire kudos for similar reasons. Many contemporary “psychedelic” artists ignore the concept and aim of the genre, which to many is the emission of music that is both invigorating and calming; the namesake alone recalls the intent, which should be receptive to a subdued and tranquil mindset without being too simplistic or over-done. It is understandably a thin line to tread, so I find the premature criticism against psychedelic-rock as “a genre for fetishists” to be a bit off, as success within the genre is renowned to the point of the style being inarguable. When you hear quality psychedelic-rock, you just know it. Innerspeaker was one of the few psychedelic-rock releases in the past few years able to accomplish that.
It is easy to throw around criticism when artists focus too much on how their pedals sound or whether a sample from an actual psychedelic track would fit, and THEN attempt to call themselves psychedelic musicians. Call it a plague brought on by our modern days, where the superfluous multitude of sub-genres dilutes the tradition of certain styles. Or you could pin it on the availability of technology, which could allow your little brother’s guitar to sound like David Gilmour if he familiarizes himself with Pirate Bay. These are absurd things to blame it on though, like blaming a McDonalds for obesity. More options should result in more creativity, not an over-dependence on substitutes for artistic expression. No one wants to hear “drone-rock” with three chords played over a Native Instruments program, just like how listeners could give a shit if you play a backwards loop of a Jefferson Airplane song over ambiance. Optimistically, hearing shameful examples like these makes Tame Impala and past psych-rock heroes sound even better. These revered groups do not need inferior comparisons to prove their selective worth though.
Watson’s history with Tame Impala goes back to their beginnings, as he performed on their 2008 self-titled debut EP. Allbrook has been touring with them for several years and was named an official member earlier this year due to his participation on Innerspeaker. Tame Impala’s head honcho/lead songwriter, Kevin Parker, has returned the favor for his friends by playing live with Pond on occasion. Their fourth studio album, Frond, was released earlier this month and is clearly their best. Chalk it up to experience perhaps, but regardless this is an album that is not a far cry from Innerspeaker, both in terms of quality and style. Pond treads in areas of garage-rock more than Tame Impala by using a sharper tone of distortion and less reverb, while sharing some electronic components that never override the psych-rock feeling. For example, the trickles of synths during “Mussels Tonight?” is not distracting or superfluous, while the vocoded bridge in the middle is simply preparation for a dizzying guitar progression that recalls the best of the genre.
Under the gauzy layers of guitar in “Cloud City” there lies a bit of funk, which in addition to the garage-rock in the self-titled cut and extensive prog-rock in “Duck and Clover” provides for Frond’s fresh perspective on psychedelia. There is not one effort on Frond that lingers away from psychedelia, but the flourishes of various stylistic attemps within concise bridges or outros is always delightful. The last four minutes of “Frond”, for instance, is a beautiful arrangement of orchestral elements and guitars that evolves with superb organization from the track’s initial pop-heavy leanings, which is led by a sprightly piano and choir-like procession. A track like “Torn Asunder”, which recalls Suede and Brett Anderson in more ways than one, contains the type of songwriting that most psych-rockers envy. Complete with delicate keys, a calming background of strings, and flourishes of woodwinds, this is the type of effort that will stun a listener making their way through the entirety of Frond. The album has so many surprises, twists, and hooks that one may question its stylistic consistency, even if it is clear. It just contains so much excitement and variation, two components that modern psychedelic-rock has been lacking.
RIYL: Tame Impala, Here We Go Magic, Suede, Beach Fossils, Midnight Juggernauts, Male Bonding, Wild Nothing, MGMT, Wavves, Friendly Fires, The Faint, Justice, The Teenagers, Late of the Pier,Phoenix, Shiny Toy Guns, VHS or Beta, Klaxons, Lotus, Passion Pit, Wolfmother, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, Hawkwind, Devendra Banhart